Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret
power working twenty-four hours a day, for good or bad.
It is of paramount importance that we know
how to harness and control this great force.
— Tom Blandi
have found that the people who are the most content are those who are truly grateful for what they have. We all have different physical characteristics, talents, abilities, and levels of natural intelligence. And we all face challenges and obstacles in our lives. I remember reading that in study after study, those who expressed daily gratitude were happier. This can happen in the form of speaking with another person, prayer, or simply reviewing the day to recall all the wonderful moments for which you are grateful.
Once, though, a friend of mine was in a funk. She was bemoaning the fact that she was overweight, had no chance of getting into an Ivy League school, and her boyfriend had just dumped her. I pointed out to her that while she was overweight, she was also very beautiful and a natural athlete. She might not be going to an Ivy League school, but she loved children and had been accepted at the state teacher’s college. While her boyfriend was no longer on the scene, she was surrounded by a loving family and numerous friends. And of course, now the door was open for her to meet someone even more wonderful. She had so many things to be grateful for, but chose instead to concentrate on the things that brought her down.
We, as humans, have a tendency to think, “I’ll be happy when . . . (insert your own situation here).” When what?? Will you be happy when you get a certain job? Earn a million dollars? Graduate from school? Meet your soul mate? Have a family? Buy a home?
Whenever you have achieved something you’ve wanted in the past, did that achievement cross you over the threshold to eternal happiness? I would venture to say, probably not. Chances are good that you just moved on, focusing your attention on the next thing you believed would become your panacea for Happily Ever After. The cycle continues to repeat itself, but the elusive goal of happiness is never achieved. The reason is that most external sources, such as the abovementioned examples, offer only illusions of happiness. Nothing, I repeat, nothing that is external to you will bring you happiness. As we’ve already explored, most happiness comes from the profound act of feeling grateful.
Do you appreciate the fact that you can breathe easily? Move your legs to walk? Have the ability to speak? The person who taught me to appreciate every aspect of life is a very memorable patient, Scott Johnson.
Before he came to see me as a first-time patient, I studied Scott’s medical chart to learn about his history. During our interaction, he filled me in on the details in answer to my remaining questions. I was surprised that he seemed to downplay his journey until I realized that it didn’t matter to him anymore. He had been given a golden ticket for a second chance at life.
Scott, who has given me permission to share his story, was born with cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disease. Cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive system. It causes the body to produce thick mucus that clogs the lungs and prevents the pancreas from producing the enzymes needed to digest food. The average lifespan for someone with this disease is about 37. There is no cure.
Scott was diagnosed at the age of two months when he was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and a collapsed lung. Growing up, he was embarrassed about his constant medical needs and incessant coughing. His disease played a major role in his childhood because “people with cystic fibrosis don’t think about their future.”
When Scott was in his late 20s, he became very sick. An oxygen machine helped him breathe, and he was frequently admitted to the hospital for infections. He lost a tremendous amount of weight, dropping down to just 95 pounds. Scott became sicker and sicker, and was admitted to the hospital yet again. He was told that had about a week to live.
Hospice was called in to provide medical care and services to Scott and his family as his death drew near. The only thing that could save him was a double lung transplant. On his deathbed, Scott made a list of all of the things that he wanted to do if he could only live. The number one item on his list was to complete a triathlon.
A pair of lungs compatible with Scott’s blood type and genetic makeup became available several days later. He underwent transplant surgery and received the healthy lungs. The recovery was slow, and was shadowed by the constant fear that his body might reject the new lungs. But he consistently took his anti-rejection medications which suppressed his immune system, making organ rejection less likely. The problem was this medication also made it more difficult for him to fight off illness. Nevertheless, he continued to improve. While his cystic fibrosis was not cured by the transplant, Scott rejoiced at his chance for a longer, healthier life.
As he gained strength, Scott remembered his deathbed dream list. He started out by working with physical therapists and simply learning how to walk again, after lying in a hospital bed for months. The walking led to swimming and biking, and eventually, running. As his strength built, he went on to complete in his first triathlon. His number one “if I could just live” item came true ! Then he completed another one. And another. After more triathlons than I can count, he went on to compete in an Ironman event.
Personally, I don’t know anyone who has ever attempted this, much less a double-lung transplant recipient with cystic fibrosis. The Ironman Triathlon involves a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2-mile run (marathon).
Scott Johnson is the only transplant recipient in the world to complete an Ironman competition. He states, “I have cystic fibrosis, but it doesn’t have me.”
He is such an inspiration and a wonderful reminder to us all. Why should we wait until our deathbed to have a wake-up call? It’s time stop existing and start living!